One Sunday when I was a child, the pastor of my church announced that a missionary would be visiting us. She was a professor in India. I asked my mother two questions: “Where is India?” and “What is a professor?” She showed me where India is on a globe. Then she told me that a professor was someone who was very smart and taught adults. Years later I learned another definition. In his book The Promise of Paradox, Parker J. Palmer writes, “Professor originally meant someone who professed a faith.”*
Today we meet missionary and professor Paul. Paul preaches and teaches in Corinth for over a year. His work in Corinth is entrusted to him by a mysterious encounter with Jesus. (See Acts 18:9-11.) The Christian community grows, and Paul continues his missionary journey.
Paul begins this letter, like all his letters, with a word of thanksgiving. He gives thanks for the grace the Corinthians have received in Christ Jesus. They are blessed with knowledge and speech and other spiritual gifts. (Later in the letter Paul will name many of these gifts.) Paul wants the believers at Corinth to remember the source of their gifts.
In our short passage we get some clues about Paul’s concerns that he will develop in the body of the letter. One concern is that the Corinthians seem to be enamored with the gifts themselves rather than the reason for the gifts. They are content with what they have and turn away from further manifestations of the Spirit. “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich (4:8). You think you are in charge!”
How can you begin your communications with others by first giving thanks?
These readings contain the common theme of the power of spoken testimony. Isaiah begins by telling his audience, “Listen to me!” He then recounts not only his own story but also the promises of restoration given to him by God. The psalmist gives testimony of his experience. Although he has been in a difficult place, God has called him out and has given him a new song of praise to proclaim. Paul and Sosthenes write to the Corinthians to remind them of the powerful testimony that they had given them in person, which was confirmed by God. John the Baptist cries out that Jesus is the Lamb of God and bears testimony to the miraculous signs at the baptism. Our testimony as believers today can be just as powerful.
Read Isaiah 49:1-7. What does it mean to be God’s servant? How does this Servant Song speak of your experiences of serving God?
Read Psalm 40:1-11. When has scripture sustained you? What words have become a real presence to you?
Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9. When have you turned your gifts inward as a sign of spiritual or social status? How can gratitude help you use your gifts in service to God and others?
Read John 1:29-42. How have you experienced Jesus saying to you, “Come and see”?
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